February is American Heart Month and a time to focus on heart health and preventing heart diseases, though taking actions to preventing health diseases should be daily activities.

Cardiovascular Disease

Cardiovascular disease, or CVD for short, is a group of interrelated diseases of the blood vessels and/or the heart, which make up the cardiovascular system, or circulatory system.  Diseases which can be identified as CVD include coronary heart disease (CHD), atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), hypertension (high blood pressure), peripheral vascular disease, and heart failure.

According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 715,000 Americans have a heart attack each year, and nearly 600,000 Americans die from heart disease yearly.  (source CDC website)

What Causes Cardiovascular Disease?

There are several risk factors that may lead to cardiovascular disease.  As you’ll see in the following section, many of these risk factors can be taken out of the equation with simple lifestyle changes.

  • Major risk factors
  • *  Hypertension – Uncontrolled hypertension can lead to damage in the arterial walls, which increases the likelihood of forming blood clots
  • *  Age – Men over 45 years of age and women over the age of 55 years are at increased risk
  • *  Diabetes (type 1 and type 2) – High blood sugar levels can damage the arteries.  Type 2 diabetics are sometimes overweight, which is also a risk factor of cardiovascular disease
  • *  Family history of cardiovascular disease
  • Modifiable risk factors
  • *  Lipoprotein profile – Elevated low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL) level, elevated total triglyceride level, and a decreased high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL) level
  • *  Obesity – A body mass index (BMI) of over 30 is a risk factor of cardiovascular disease.  As BMI increases, the risk of heart disease also increases.  Obese individuals tend to be inactive and have poor diets.  Carrying extra fat tissue greatly affects the heart
  • Lifestyle risk factors
  • *  Tobacco use, specifically smoking – Regular smoking can narrow the blood vessels
  • *  Physical inactivity – Sedentary individuals tend to have higher blood pressure readings, higher blood cholesterol levels, and may be overweight
  • *  Poor diet – Diets high in fat and cholesterol can accelerate the accumulation of fatty deposits in the blood vessels.  Also, a diet lacking in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and essential fatty acids can increase the risk factor as these foods have been shown to improve cardiovascular health
  • *  Stress – Stress can cause a hike in hormone levels, which can raise blood sugar levels, heart rate, and blood pressure
  • *  Excessive alcohol consumption – People who drink heavily tend to have higher blood pressure

Nutrition Management of Cardiovascular Disease

Although there are some risk factors that just cannot be controlled, such as genetics, there are many lifestyle and dietary changes that can be done to positively impact the heart and reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.  Below are some dietary recommendations from the American Heart Association that can help with the disease reduction:

  • *  Consume a diet rich in fruits and vegetables
  • *  Choose whole grain, high fiber foods
  • *  Consume fish at least twice a week
  • *  Limit saturated fat to less than 7% of total calories, trans fats to less than 1% of calories, and cholesterol to less than 300 mg per day.  These recommendations can be achieved by choosing lean meats, dairy products that are fat-free, 1% or low-fat, and minimizing intakes of foods containing hydrogenated fats
  • *  Limit intakes of foods and drinks with added sugars
  • *  Choose and prepare foods with little not no added salt
  • *  Consume alcohol in moderation
  • *  Balance calories intakes and physical activity levels to achieve a healthy body weight